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Pot Limit Omaha Poker From Square One - Part I: PLO Fundamentals

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Pot Limit Omaha, more often referred to by its acronym PLO, is easily the second most popular poker variation, right behind No Limit Texas Hold’em. The game owes a lot of its popularity to the fact that it has many similarities with Hold’em: Both are played with community cards (flop, turn, and river) and use the same hand rankings.

While PLO may seem very similar to Hold’em, it is a completely different game because the fact that players start with four hole cards instead of two changes the entire dynamics. Omaha is thus much more complex from a mathematical standpoint as there are so many more possible combinations and outcomes to account for.

In this series, we’ll bring you a complete guide to Pot Limit Omaha and try to help you learn about all the intricacies involved with the game. Of course, this guide alone won’t make you a PLO master, but it will set you up with the fundamentals of preflop hand selection, postflop play, and general strategic ideas you can build on.

Pot Limit Omaha Poker From Square One, Part 1

Why Learn to Play Pot Limit Omaha?

Green Question Mark

Most of us started our poker journeys playing Texas Hold’em and have been playing the game for years. This means that we have learned a lot about the game, how to select our hands before the flop, how to play our draws on the flop, and even many more advanced strategies. So, why give up on all this and switch to a completely different game?

The thing about Texas Hold’em is that it has become almost a solved game. While it may be too complex to ever be solved completely, years of study and analysis have brought us to a point where almost everyone who takes the game even remotely seriously is solid. And those who take it quite seriously are very, very good.

Thus, edges are becoming smaller with every passing day. To keep up, you’d need to put in many hours studying the game and improving your skills especially if you play online where the competition is much more competent on average. You could do it, of course, like many people still do, or you could try your hand at a different game: a game that's still popular enough to make sure there are always tables running.

That’s where Omaha comes in. The game’s popularity has been increasing over the past few years with more and more players taking a liking to it. And, while there are some very good PLO players out there, you’ll find many soft Omaha games because the average level of knowledge and skill is nowhere near as advanced as for Texas Hold’em.

Hence, investing your time in learning PLO could be a much more profitable plan than going against the odds and continuing the push for increasingly smaller edges in Hold’em especially if you are just starting out with poker.

Omaha vs. Hold’em: What You Should Know at the Start

Fruit on a See-Saw

In many aspects, Omaha is similar to Hold’em, which is exactly why many players make a quick transition to the PLO tables: thinking it’s the same game, but you just get more cards, so it’s more fun to play. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and this misconception is one of the reasons why there are still loads of money to be made in Omaha.

So, let’s first underline some main differences between the two games:

  • Hold’em is played as no limit – Omaha plays as pot limit
  • In Omaha, you get four cards instead of two but have to use two and two only
  • Starting hand equities run much closer together in Omaha
  • Position is important in Hold’em, but it is king in PLO

Of course, for the purposes of this series, we’re only looking at Pot Limit Omaha as the most popular variation of the game. Like Hold’em, Omaha is also played in the fixed-limit format as well, but these games aren’t nearly as popular because they just don’t have the same buzz that can attract casual players.

Pot Limit vs. No Limit: What’s the Difference?

In no limit games, you can always bet as much as you'd like. You can make the minimum raise or put your entire stack in the middle at any point when it is your turn to act. While people have come up with mathematical ideas and concepts that suggest how to form your bet and raise sizes, there is nothing in the rules of the game preventing you from shipping 250 big blinds over a two big blind bet.

This isn’t the case with pot limit games as the maximum raise you can make is limited by the size of the pot. This creates a situation where you’re often priced in and have to call a raise even if you know that your opponent has a better starting hand.

This is one of the reasons why PLO is often referred to as a “flop game.” Unlike Hold’em, where many hands are over before the flop, you’ll be taking many more flops, turns, and rivers in PLO.

Exactly Two and Only Two Cards Rule

One of the things that many players transitioning from Hold’em often have problems with is that you have to use exactly two of your hole cards to make an Omaha hand. In Hold’em, if the board runs all spades, you know that the only way for your opponent to beat you is if they have at least one spade in their hand that's higher than one of the community cards.

This isn’t the case in PLO. You have to use two cards exactly to make your hand, so the only way to make a spade flush is if you have at least two spades in your hand.

Or, if the board runs 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, you don’t have a straight if you’re holding K, 3, 8, J. You can’t use any single card to make the straight, so neither your 3 nor your 8 play here. In fact, in this particular situation, you have a King-high hand and would lose to anyone having a single Ace in the hole.

Here are a few more examples of hands where the two-card rule is clearly shown. We are seated at the top of the table in these examples and have a losing hand.

PLO Hand Evaluation Example 1The Top Hand's 5 Cannot Play by Itself With the Board to Make a Straight
Thus, It Has Merely A-high, Losing to the Bottom Hand's Pair of 2s

PLO Hand Evaluation Example 2The Lone Ah in the Top Hand Cannot Combine to Make a Flush With the Four Hearts on Board
The Top Hand Has Only A-High, Inferior to the Pair of 7s in the Bottom Hand

Starting Hand Equities in PLO

When it comes to Hold’em, we all pretty much know what constitutes a really strong starting hand and what hands we can comfortably commit our chips with, expecting to be a big favorite. In Omaha, however, starting hand equities run much closer together and there are no starting hands that are such huge favorites as pocket Aces against 7-2, for example, in Texas Hold'em.

Let’s consider this hand:

PLO Equity Comparison 1AAKKds Wins 71.08% of the Time Against 9732r

The top hand is considered one of the absolute best hands you can get dealt in PLO – double suited Aces and Kings. The bottom hand is one of the worst hands that exists. It can make no flushes, there are no pairs, and there are only few straight opportunities. However, even this hand has almost 30% equity against the absolute beast that is the double suited Aces and Kings.

Even if we remove one of the cards, like the 9s, and exchange it for a Js, removing half of the straight opportunities, the bottom hand will still only be a 75% underdog, which is a far cry from the 87% underdog that 7-2 is against pocket Aces in Hold’em.

And this is only looking at the extremes. As card values move away from the extremes, things start to become increasingly complicated. For example, let’s look at another hand.

PLO Equity Comparison 2KKQQ Wins 58.27% of the Time Against 9876ds

A hand containing two big pairs but not blocking any of the flushes is only a slight favorite against a middling rundown. This is an idea that many beginning PLO players struggle with, and we’ll go into much more detail on this topic in the next part of this guide when we discuss starting hand values and selection.

For the time being, it is important to understand and keep in mind that hand equities in Omaha are much closer in general, and you simply can’t gain as much of a preflop edge over your opponents even if they are really bad. Due to the nature of the game, their hands will simply realize their equities more often and crack some of even your strongest hands.

Position – you want to have it

Because of all the aspects we’ve discussed so far, you’ll find yourself taking many flops in PLO. Hence, perhaps even more important than your starting hand selection is your position at the table. In Omaha, the dealer button is a very powerful position where you’ll be able to widen your range and play many more hands because being the last to act after the flop is such a huge advantage.

Oftentimes, you’ll be raising to isolate instead of to get your opponent to fold. There is much more folding going on in PLO before the flop once someone gets involved with the pot, so often, the main idea behind your raise is to discourage others at the table from coming along, effectively ensuring you have position over the original raiser.

If you’re new to Omaha, it may seem like there is no way that position is that much more important than in Hold’em, but as soon as you play a few hands, you’ll understand why this is the case.

In a game where you’ll often be looking to make your draws and realize your equity, being last to act will give you so much more control of the hand that everything else pretty much comes second to it. This is especially true at the lower stakes where people still tend to play fairly face-up.

Bluffing in PLO: It’s a Different Pair of Shoes

Caution Sign

You have to bluff to win sometimes, right? In Hold’em, bluffing is an essential part of the game, and you pretty much have to do it with a fairly high frequency.

Omaha is a different kettle of fish. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be bluffing in this game or that bluffs don’t have their place, but in general, and especially in lower stakes games, you’ll want to tone down your bluffs.

The fact of the matter is: People don’t like folding their draws, so one or two barrels won’t do the job nearly as often as they would in Hold’em. Going for frequent three barrel bluffs is a high variance strategy that can be very costly especially for an inexperienced player just learning the ropes.

Of course, bluffing and semi-bluffing have their place in PLO, and we’ll talk about this in later parts of this series. For the time being, though, make a mental note that most of your value in Omaha will come from actually making your hands and having opponents pay you with the second-best hand or hang themselves trying to bluff.

Gearing up for Success

Two Interlocking Gears

From what we’ve covered in this article so far, you can probably already deduce that becoming a good PLO player won’t be nearly as easy as some might believe. Being a good Hold’em player certainly helps with some fundamental understanding, but there is so much to learn that you won’t be able to just “make it on your own” so to say.

Perhaps some of those reading this guide are natural talents for poker and will have no problems with the transition. In general, however, you want to use as many resources as available to get up to speed and gear up for success. This means going beyond what’s described and covered in these articles and looking for other resources as well.

Pot Limit Omaha Books & Videos

Although PLO may not be as well-covered as NLHE, there are many great resources out there to help you develop as a player. Some of them are completely free while others may require you to spend some money, but if you’re serious about your growth as a player, this shouldn't concern you too much. Investing in knowledge and self-improvement is one of the best things a poker player can do especially when taking up a new game variation.

While books on PLO may be somewhat scarce and hard to come by, there are a few titles you should definitely read as you go along, which will also help you better understand and apply the ideas explained in this series.

    • “Pot-Limit Omaha Poker” by Jeff Hwang (2008)
    • “Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha” (Volumes 1 and 2) by Jeff Hwang (2016)
    • “Secrets of Professional Pot-Limit Omaha” by Rolf Slotboom (2006)

These and some other books on the topic of Pot Limit Omaha may seem outdated, but you shouldn’t worry about it too much. Unlike Hold’em, PLO strategy hasn’t advanced very much over the last decade at least if we’re talking about your average player. Exactly because materials are harder to come by, there aren’t nearly as many people with even fundamental knowledge about the game.

Hwang’s first book is definitely a great read for someone just looking to get started with PLO. The author goes to great lengths to explain the process of selecting starting hands in Omaha based on several important factors, such as high cards, suitedness, and connectedness, all of which we’ll discuss in the next part of this series when talking about PLO starting hands.

If you’re more of a visual type, there are also some very good PLO videos out there, available for free and on paid training sites. For example, the PLO Lab at Upswing Poker covers pretty much all the important aspects of the game, and the price isn’t even that high. However, if these are your first steps in Omaha, you might want to wait for a little while until you get some fundamental concepts sorted out and figure out if this is a game you really want to play in the first place.

PLO Software

Poker software has become pretty much obligatory for any online player who strives to be successful. While things may have been different ten or so years ago, nowadays you’ll need to utilize the software available to keep up with the curve. Additionally, this can also be a very convenient way to analyze your game and find your own leaks.

The basic piece of software you’ll definitely want to have the moment you start playing even semi-seriously is Omaha Manager, a variation of the popular Hold’em Manager adjusted for Omaha. Like HM2, this software keeps a database of your and your opponents’ hands and provides you with numerous important stats, such as VPIP, RFI, 3-bet percentage, and much more.

Another great piece of software you’ll definitely want to use is ProPokerTools Omaha Simulator. The online version of the software is free, but you’ll probably want to purchase a license for the standalone, downloadable version as well. This is a great tool for determining how particular hands and hand ranges stack up against each other and can be a very valuable tool for beginner players.

Screenshot of Odds Oracle SoftwareOdds Oracle Can Help You Understand the Probabilities in PLO

There are other, more advanced tools out there as well, but these two should be more than enough to get you started. Both programs also come with free trials so you can actually download them and have some time to check them out before making your final decision.

Introduction to PLO Strategy: The Basics

Clipboard

While this initial article isn’t meant to cover any particular strategy segments of Pot Limit Omaha and is more of a general introduction to the game, we’ll try to prepare you for what’s to come with a short strategy breakdown, which is also a table of contents of sorts for the rest of this series.

Starting hand selection in PLO

The art of choosing your starting hands in PLO is more complex than in Texas Hold’em. Although you may think that having four cards instead of two means you should be playing more hands before the flop, the reality is much different. You should be much more careful when choosing your starting hands in Omaha as getting involved with hands prone to making the second-best hand a high percentage of the time can be a costly habit.

An entire section of this PLO series is devoted to starting hand selection and all the elements and considerations involved in the process. The tight-is-right approach will actually do you a lot of good in Pot Limit Omaha, especially when you first get started, as it will save you a lot of money in tough spots you’ll avoid by simply mucking your hand before the flop.

Importance of Position

We’ve already mentioned the importance of position in PLO, but there is much more to say on this topic, which we'll cover in a separate section. Having position in a PLO hand should always be your ultimate goal as much as possible. Being in position will help you control the size of the pot and make much better informed decisions on every street.

Made hands, Draws, and More: Postflop Play

Pot Limit Omaha is largely a postflop game where your ability to navigate different situations from the flop onwards will be key to your long-term success. You have to see a lot of flops in Omaha, and there is no two ways about it. So, your strategy in this area needs to be up to the task.

Of course, postflop play ties in with your starting hand selection, and as you study the game more and put in more hands, the pieces will start to fall into place. You’ll realize why certain hands just make so much more sense to get involved with while others are a sure ticket to troubleville.

Bluffing & Semi-bluffing

We’ve already mentioned that bluffing may not be as important in PLO as it is in Hold’em, but it definitely has its place. To make your bluffs profitable, you’ll need to understand concepts such as blockers and also be able to figure out your opponents’ likely holdings by the way they play their hands. Since people don’t fold on flops and turns as much in PLO, your strategy needs to be adjusted for this fact.

Conclusion to Part I: Taking the First Step

Man Climbing Steps

You’ve reached the end of the first part of our Pot Limit Omaha series for beginners. Hopefully, by this point, you have a pretty good idea about some game fundamentals and how they differ from everyone’s favorite choice, Texas Hold’em.

If some things are still unclear or you are uncertain about some concepts, don’t sweat it. This Part I is meant to simply introduce you to the game and pique your interest. The following parts cover various specific aspects of the game and go over many important concepts in much greater detail.

If you really have your mind set on playing Pot Limit Omaha, stick around and keep on reading. By the time you’re done with this series, if you take advantage of the advice and resources suggested here, you’re pretty much guaranteed to become a much better PLO player than you are right now. It may be a complex game, but once you get under the hood and start to develop a deeper understanding for it, things will no longer seem scary or hard to understand.

Photo of Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author of the free book “Formula for Poker Success,” and founder of MyPokerCoaching.com. He may be a coach, but he wisely strives to improve his poker game every single day to not only better his results but to have a greater wealth of knowledge to share with his students, on his website, in his books, and in exhaustive Pot Limit Omaha guides such as the one you have just read!

If you want to master strategy, find the best poker tools, and learn about other interesting strategy topics, you can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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